The Claw Hammer Murder

by James Scott Bell

July 12, 1922. It was hot in Los Angeles. A twilight crowd of 5,000 cooled off at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to an eighty-piece orchestra play a bill of popular music under the baton of maestro Albert Hurtz.

Downtown at the Alhambra movie house, 500 Angelenos thrilled to the  hit of the season, D. W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm starring Dorothy and Lillian Gish.

At clandestine speakeasies in Hollywood, couples were tippling gin and dancing the Charleston.

And on a lonely stretch of road in Montecito Heights a beautiful young widow named Alberta Meadows was getting her skull pulverized by a claw hammer.

When police—along with a couple of crime beat reporters—got to the scene, the sight of the corpse made several of them nauseous. The body had been disemboweled and the face was an unrecognizable muck of raw meat. So viciously had that face been smashed that the head of the hammer had broken off.

Who could have committed such a heinous act…and why?

The answer came by way of another tip—from the killer’s husband! It was he who turned in a pert, shapely, former vaudeville dancer named Clara Phillips, age 23.

It seems her husband, a dashing sport named Armour Phillips, had gone into debt chasing the California oil boom. With creditors breathing down his neck, he struck up an acquaintance with the rich and comely widow, Mrs. Meadows. Soon they began, as it used to be said, “keeping company.”

When Clara confronted Armour, he denied any dalliance. She started listening, from an upstairs extension, to Armour’s telephone calls. She heard gossip that Armour had bought Mrs. Meadows a wristwatch and new tires for her car.

The day before the murder, Clara went shopping with her friend, Peggy Caffee. She bought a skirt, a pair of slippers and some stockings. Then they went to a five-and-dime where Clara purchased a claw hammer. She had not yet told Peggy about her suspicions.

She did the next day, Wednesday, July 12. She poured out her heart as the barkeep poured out the gin at a speakeasy in Long Beach. She told Peggy she wanted to talk to Alberta Meadows, so they headed back to L.A. to wait outside the bank where Alberta worked. Around four-thirty, Mrs. Meadows emerged and headed toward her Ford coupé. Clara stepped over. Alberta knew who Clara was, and perhaps not wanting to cause a scene she consented to Clara’s request to drop her off at her sister’s house in a sparsely populated and rugged development northeast of downtown.

Along the way Clara asked Alberta to pull over and please step out of the car to discuss “something.” She confronted Alberta about Armour. Alberta denied any wrongdoing.

Clara pulled out the claw hammer and struck Alberta’s head.

Alberta wailed and started running. Clara caught up with the dazed widow, grabbed her arm, and walked her back to the car. Peggy thought it was all over. Until Clara went back to work on Alberta’s head.

Alberta cried out to Peggy, “My God! Save me! Help me!”

Peggy attempted to intervene. Clara raised the hammer and said, “Don’t interfere, damn you, or I’ll kill you!”

Peggy ran down the road, stopped, and looked back. She saw Clara pounding and pounding and clawing at Alberta’s body, blood “spurting out in gushes.”

Peggy vomited.

After finishing her ghastly work, Clara rolled a big rock over the body. A few minutes later, covered in blood, Clara ordered Peggy into Alberta’s car.

“I’ll do the same thing to any other woman who bothers my husband,” she said. “And if you tell anybody, I’ll kill you.” After dropping Peggy off, Clara drove to her house, walked in and told Armour, “I guess it’s murder. I killed your lover, Alberta.”

She then poured herself a drink and said she’d turn herself in to the police in the morning.

For some reason, Armour convinced Clara to take it on the lam. She agreed. That night they ditched Alberta’s car and got Clara a ticket on a train to El Paso, with a plan for her to cross over into Mexico.

In the morning Armour went to see his lawyer and told him what was going on. The aghast attorney immediately called a well-known L.A. lawman, Undersheriff Gene Biscailuz. He came to the lawyer’s office and Armour told him about his wife’s confession.

Biscailuz notified authorities in Tucson, who nabbed Clara off the train and put her in the hoosegow. A couple of days later, L.A. plainclothesmen and the sheriff of Los Angeles county, Bill Traeger, arrived to bring Clara back. She smilingly obliged, denied knowing anything about the murder, and said her name was really Clara McGuyer.

She was put in a Pullman compartment, with the sheriff’s wife to keep watch.

Little did she know that the lawmen had brought along Peggy Caffee. At one point they brought Peggy into the Pullman and asked her point blank if this was the woman who killed Mrs. Meadows.

“Yes,” a nervous Peggy replied.

Clara said nothing and began to apply some makeup.

By the time they got back to L.A., the press was calling this the most brutal murder in the history of the city. They dubbed Clara Phillips “The Tiger Woman.”

She smiled for all the cameras, even as she was booked at the L.A. county jail.

Embed from Getty Images

At the trial, thinking she could charm the jury, Clara Phillips took the stand and swore under oath that it was really Peggy Caffee who bought the hammer and killed Alberta Meadows!

The jury deadlocked on first degree murder, 10-2 for conviction. They unanimously settled on second degree. The judge sentenced Clara to 10 years to life to be served at San Quentin.

But Clara had other ideas.

A man named Jesse Carson—a gun runner and soldier of fortune—had become enamored of the fetching killer. Visiting her in jail, Carson smuggled her a hacksaw blade. Over the space of three nights, Clara sawed at the bars on her window. Then she slipped through, made her way to vent pipe and shimmied down 50 feet to an outcropping where Carson had placed a rope. She went down the rope another 50 feet and climbed over a steel fence into an alley where Carson was waiting for her in his car.

They hid out in Redlands, where Clara bleached her hair. Eventually, wearing dark glasses and a hat, Clara lit out by train with Carson. They got to New Orleans and booked passage for Clara to Vera Cruz, with Carson to follow. Authorities picked up her trail to Mexico, then Guatemala, and finally to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Undersheriff Eugene Biscailuz

There her extradition was held up by some local officials who had fallen for the dimples and charm of the Tiger Woman. Undersheriff Gene Biscailuz, who spoke perfect Spanish, was dispatched with a team to negotiate with the Hondurans. He had with him a reporter for the Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner, Morris Lavine. He asked Lavine to meet with Clara and convince her to return. Lavine appealed to her vanity. Instead of running all your life, come back to Los Angeles, get a new trial and prove your innocence—and give the Examiner your exclusive.

The prospect of landing on the front page again did the trick. Clara returned, only to find out that her lawyer had missed the deadline for filing the appeal.

Off to San Quentin she went. In 1933 she was transferred to the new women’s prison at Tehachapi. To pass the time, she started studying dentistry.

Armour, meanwhile, had gotten a divorce and moved east.

Clara Phillips, LAPD booking photo, 1922

In 1935, thirteen years after the brutal slaying, Clara Phillips was paroled. Stepping out of the gates she was greeted by a crowd shouting, “Tiger Woman!” Reporters asked for a statement. Clara said she just wanted to be left alone.

She went to live in San Diego and worked as a dental assistant until 1961. (What a chilling thought that is. “Open wide…wider…”) She then moved to Texas, and finally went to face the Ultimate Judge.

The history of Los Angeles is rife with crime stories like this—brutal, sensational, and often accompanied by a public fascination bordering on celebrity worship (can you say O.J.?)

Little wonder, then, that I keep setting my books in my home town.

What about you? Did the town where you grew up have any sensational crimes? Or at least, something local that had folks talking? How about where you live now?


Note: My new L.A. thriller, Romeo’s Town, releases today at a special deal price. (Outside the U.S., go to your Amazon store and search for B09CFTLDKJ. There’s a paperback, too.)

55 thoughts on “The Claw Hammer Murder

  1. My home town was sweet and safe. Hardly anyone even locked their doors. When I was in college there was one murder – the nice old man who ran the little grocery store across from the soccer field. Out of town druggies. It was the end of an era.

    • Being a big city boy all my life, I cannot compute “sweet and safe” for a home town. Growing up I felt relatively safe in a suburb of L.A. Then came the Charles Manson family, a few miles from my home…

        • We may have been almost neighbors. I lived both about 40 miles to the east of you in Pensacola Beach, FL and 60 miles to the west in Gulfport, MS while stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi.

          Beautiful country and friendly people. Being on the up-current side of the Gulf water flow, we were spared the muddy waters from the Mississippi River. The waters were clear emerald green and white sandy beaches that looked like sugar. I too miss the area every day.

    • My little home town was sweet and safe, too. That is until a quiet little couple by the name of Bonnie and Clyde passed through.

  2. Thank you, Jim, for an early morning eye-opener. I think that every municipality, regardless of size, has at least one story. There is something about Los Angeles, however, that seems to make it a magnet for stories such as the one you presented.

    I am fascinated by the Hotel Cecil, which is notorious for strange deaths.

    To answer your question…oh yeah. We had a murder on my quiet little street a few years ago that people still talk about ( and more recently a woman disappeared for several months before her body was discovered in an area she frequented ( As an update, her husband was ultimately charged with her murder and is awaiting trial. There have also been a couple of bizarre disappearances. The woods, as they say, are full of ’em.

    Have a great weekend, Jim.

    • Ah yes, Joe, the woods….anyplace wild. Here in L.A. we have hiking trails in various hills and valleys. And the occasional jogger who spots an occasional body. Drive for a bit and you have the desert. With horny toads…

      • I’ve walked by the Cecil many times…never went in, though. Why would I? I do believe there are places in L.A. with distinct and dark “forces”…over in Pasadena there’s a beautiful bridge with the nickname “suicide bridge” for obvious reasons.

  3. I grew up in Newnan, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta, the setting of the book, and later TV movie by the same name, _Murder In Coweta County_.

    1948, landowner, “big daddy,” and bootlegger/distiller John Wallace chased Wilson Turner, a sharecropper trying to turn an extra dollar by doing some bootlegging of his own, across the Meriwether County line into Sheriff Potts’s Coweta County.

    Witnesses reported seeing Wallace pistol-whip Turner so hard that the gun discharged, and that Turner’s limp body was dumped unceremoniously into one of the cars.

    Wallace then took Turner’s remains back across the county line where they were eventually burned at one of Wallace’s stills.

    The ashes from the fire-pit were scattered into a creek used in the moonshining process.

    Sheriff Potts was called and he and his deputies searched for a couple of days until an informant gave them Wallace’s name, and the name of two sharecroppers who had helped Wallace. Potts convinced the two black men to take him to the site, where human brain tissue and enough ashes and bone fragments to fill a match box were found in the undergrowth along the creek – enough to provide the “body” required for trial.

    It rained the next day, hard enough to have washed everything away.

    Wallace was eventually found guilty based on this pre-DNA/early-CSI evidence (and witness testimony), appealed several times, to no avail, and met his Maker via “Old Sparky” in 1950…

    In the movie, Johnny Cash played Potts, Andy Griffith played Wallace (reportedly to do role other than his good ol’ Andy Taylor), and June Carter played a gypsy woman consulted during the early days of the investigation.

    I was lucky enough to meet and go to church with Sheriff Potts, who passed in 1971, his son, Lamar, Jr., who became a Presbyterian minister and moved to McComb, Mississippi (and points beyond), and his son, who was about my age, who was, to my recollection, last known to be living up to the reputation of being the “son of a preacher man…”

  4. I grew up in Los Angeles, then moved to Miami. Plenty of crime there. This one happened not far from where we lived, close to the drive-u[p Farm Store which I frequented to replenish our ever-diminishing milk supply, (Copied from Wikipedia: my memory isn’t that good, and I was more involved with those 3 kids who were the reason I needed to keep buying milk. Lucky for me, I hadn’t needed to shop that day.)

    The 1986 FBI Miami shootout occurred on April 11, 1986, in a then-unincorporated region of Dade County, Florida (incorporated as Pinecrest in 1996) when a small group of field agents for the FBI attempted to apprehend William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt, who were suspected of committing a recent series of violent crimes in and around the Miami area.

    Although they had partially surrounded the suspects after maneuvering them off a local road, the agents involved quickly found themselves outmatched by the weapons which Matix and Platt had in their vehicle. During the gun battle which ensued, Platt in particular was able to repeatedly return fire despite sustaining multiple hits. In total, two Special Agents died from their wounds, while five other agents were injured by gunfire. The shootout ended when both Matix and Platt were killed.

    The incident is infamous as one of the most violent episodes in the history of the FBI and is often studied in law enforcement training. The scale of the shootout also led to the introduction of more effective handguns in the FBI and many police departments around the United States.

    • I grew up in Coral Gables (a block from Gables High School), but (was), moved in ’69… but I recall a bombing that took out the garage and front yard of a house about six blocks away… being 11, that’s all I really remember about that…

      …though I do remember the Farm Stores…

    • L.A. to Miami…never a dull moment for you, Terry! The crime you mention reminds me of what may be the most intense police gun battle ever, the 1997 bank robbery in North Hollywood, with the two guys in body armor and automatic weapons. They fired 1100 rounds, the police 650. Twelve cops and eight civilians were hit, but thankfully didn’t die. One of the robbers shot himself, the other got hit in the leg and eventually bled to death. I saw the video on TV shortly after the incident. It looked like two Robocops versus the real kind.

      • Now I live in Divide, Colorado. Not much goes on here. The Hubster picks up the weekly throwaway paper and goes straight for the crime reports. He says if people didn’t fail to appear in court, the deputies would have nothing to do.

  5. In July 2000, a made-for-TV murder occurred in Wenham, Massachusetts, a town located six miles from my home in Salem, Massachusetts. Wenham is a quiet bedroom community with a population of 5,000, high-priced real estate, and an extremely low crime rate.

    The murder and motives were not extraordinary: a man in the middle of a contentious divorce shot his estranged wife in her front yard in the presence of witnesses, including her brother.

    What rendered the case front-page sensational were details that emerged about the husband:

    -He was a brilliant dermatologist who received his MD from Harvard Medical School and had been on the faculty there.

    -In addition to a successful medical practice, he built a laser hair removal business that made him wealthy. His investments from the profits made him wealthier.

    -For many years, he had been a cross-dresser. Photos of him sporting shoulder length hair, tight dresses, and fishnet stockings were reproduced in newspapers.

    -Legal documents, revealed his wife alleged he stole her birth control pills in an attempt to feminize his body with hormones.

    -He managed to flee the crime scene before police arrived but was captured a day later in a motel in New Hampshire, where he had registered under his own name.

    -He was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to prison for life. While imprisoned, he allegedly attempted to steal his children’s trust fund, escape from prison, and hire another prisoner to kill a prosecutor.

    -In 2009, he was found hanged in his cell.

  6. Chilling story, Jim!

    The murder of Beryl Atherton has become one of the most intriguing mysteries in Marblehead, MA (where I grew up). The unsolved murder continues to be a topic of debate and speculation more than fifty years after the event.
    Beryl Atherton was a fifth grade school teacher and beloved by her students.

    On Friday November 24, 1950, the day after Thanksgiving, Miss Atherton went to Salem (MA) to pick up her fur coat out of storage and some groceries. It had already started snowing. A Nor’easter storm was producing heavy, wet snow that would eventually bring down electrical wires and immobilize the town for the entire weekend.
    When she arrived home, she put her groceries away and stripped down to her slip, hanging her damp skirt on the railing to dry.

    At some point that evening someone broke in and murdered her, but her body wasn’t discovered till Monday morning. The milk man entered through the back door as usual to put the milk in the refrigerator. There he found Beryl Atherton lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood.

    The local police found pieces of a broken knife in the body. They found pearls from the broken strand around Miss Atherton’s neck. They found blood under the body, but no signs of a struggle. The kitchen had been cleaned. No fingerprints, no foot prints, and no sign of forced entry.

    The timing of the storm had given the murderer time to commit the crime, then return to erase his or her existence from the crime scene. To this day, the case remains unsolved.

    • Chilling, Sue. Out here, of course, our most famous unsolved is the Black Dahlia. But I do believe retired LAPD detective Steve Hodel’s discovery that it was his own father who did the deed…and was actually a serial killer! I saw his presentation and evidence, live. Convinced me!

  7. Interesting, even if you had used no dates in recounting this story, you’d know it was a LONG time ago in LA just by this part “house in a sparsely populated…”.

    Ah the days when there was space to roam.

    As to my tiny little hometown back east. I don’t remember anything sensational but there was bound to be the occasional crime given man’s fallen nature. And of course now that I live in Phoenix metro, there are more crimes than anybody can keep track of, as with any big city.

    • 1922 was the time to buy L.A. real estate…and hold onto it!

      Phoenix is another “great” crime setting. And a place for witness protection, e.g., Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.

  8. Good morning, Jim. The story you recounted reminded me of one of Chandler’s books. Was it “The Long Goodbye” where a grisly murder of a woman took place? And the murderer was a woman?

    I grew up in Savannah, GA, and I don’t remember anything that would rise (or sink) to the level of some of these accounts. But we live in Memphis, TN now, and I don’t have to remind anyone of the terrible murder that occurred here in 1968. A member of my book club chose “Hellhound on His Trail” for one of our sessions last year. I tend to shy away from those kinds of books, but I read it and discovered lots of details I never knew about the assassin and the assassination.

    • Kay, The Long Goodbye is my favorite of Chandler’s…and I shan’t spoil anything by commenting on the ending!

      Speaking of books about crime, the scariest book I ever read (tied, perhaps, with The Shining) is Helter, Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, about the Manson family. I had nightmares! Maybe because it was so zombie-like, the way he took kids and turned them into soulless killers.

  9. Thanks for the reminder of how thankful I am to live in a rural community with a low crime rate. If you asked people in our little town your question, they would point to 1962 and the shooting of the beloved Marshal Sherman Ricketts. After confronting a Michigan parole violator at 2:45 am, on the street of a breaking and entering, Ricketts was shot and killed. He managed to return fire and hit the suspect three times. The suspect was apprehended and convicted for the murder of Ricketts. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and died earlier this year.

    Have a peaceful and quiet Labor Day weekend!

    • Ah, Steve, the rural setting. When a brutal crime happens, it really must be a shock, a la In Cold Blood. But that means most of the time your setting is normal, something we in the city often sigh about.

  10. Wow! In every place, in every way, there are people who are just a bit haywire. (Somebody please tell me what haywire is . . . )

    In my little corner of the PNW, right in my hometown where I still live, a couple of decades ago, a woman hacked up her mother and hid her in a barrel on her mother’s property. Then continued receiving and cashing her mother’s SS checks for I don’t remember how long.

    She was eventually found out and her mother’s body was located, fairly degraded from some kind of chemical the murderer had used. Went to trial, was convicted, and received two (2, dos, as in 1+1) years on some mental health technicality. (So, who in their right mind would hack up their own mother?)

    I will never forget reading the disposition of the case in the local rag. I decided that day that justice in this world was going the way of the dinosaur. And the longer I breathe, the more said justice is redefined into some subjective pot of stew, completely nauseous and unrecognizable by most of us.

    Thanks for the rant, Jim. 🙂

  11. I grew up in a place called Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It’s not L.A.—not even close. At the heart of it, Edmonton is not your stereotypical Canadian City. It’s known as ‘the gateway of the north’ and the oil and gas industry is all around it. It’s strategically important since massive oil volumes flow towards The Great Lakes and Eastern United States.

    A cause of Edmonton’s problems might have been that it’s transient. People come and go for jobs all the time.

    Keep in mind—and I’ve been through boom-and-bust cycles myself in the oil and gas industry—you have to fill positions fast, and you might not care who you hire. You get to where there’s too much to do and you desperately need people to provide your service or product. The result of this is poor community building, which you can end up with too many rejects and castoffs in one place.

    I believe that a subculture can form this way. You get pockets within communities that you don’t want to visit.

    Edmonton went through an oil boom in the 70s and was devastated in the 80s by an economic bust. Things really went downhill when the money seemed to dry up. In the late 80s and early 90s, there was a storm of murders that seemed to be out of control, which I think it was driven by poverty than anything else.

    Michael White is one man I remember who stuck out. He killed his wife who cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s baby. She had been strangled and the unborn child never had a chance.

    Mr. White first reported his wife missing and then led a search to find her body a few days after that in a nearby field. Things went on, but eventually the police made their arrest and Mr. White went to jail.

    When Michael White was released on bail, the media reported he went straight to a KFC and bought a bucket of chicken. I cannot for the life of me think why that was important to report other than it being such odd behavior.

    Anyway, I also remember talking with several people back then about the KFC. It went on for days talking about why you’d head out for fast food right out of jail. This was stupid! I think there was so much happening in our city we forgot about the victims after a short while. Society seemed to move from remorse to finding the quirky goofy things in life more interesting. Maybe it was a coping mechanism for most.

    The funny thing is I tried hard several times to leave that place and start and new life some place else. Kept going back due to circumstance and eventually met my wife. She grew up in a quiet town southeast of there. But, when we both talked about my childhood, she cringes what life could be like.

    Might make for some good stories.

    • Thanks for that account, Ben. You are right that places with a lot of transients can be a great setting for crime stories. That little detail about KFC is one of those that makes these stories a little extra chilling.

  12. JSB, you’ve opened quite the can of true-crime home town murders. Fascinating stories, every one ripe for fictionalization. And I have three of my own to add. I too grew up in the sleepy town of Jamestown, NY (famous for Lucille Ball and now the National Comedy Center) and not much happened. But in 1973 (I was 10 years old) a husband, his wife, and their young daughter were shot to death in their home. I remember riding past the house with my parents. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hallett and daughter Ann were all shot in the back of their heads. The home was ransacked, the safe emptied and Roberts vehicle stolen. The culprits were a pair of men from Detroit, a seven or eight hour drive from Jamestown. The girlfriend of one of the men joined them—her name was Susan Hallett, Robert’s daughter from a previous relationship. She was paroled in 2000 after spending 25 years in prison.

    In May of 1988 Jamestown again made the national news when a woman, Kathy Wilson, went missing after shopping at the Quality Markets at lunchtime. As a clerk in that store, I saw her often around lunch time, though the day she disappeared was my day off. Her body was found across the border in Pennsylvania almost a year and a half later—she had been raped and murdered. The man accused of the crime was later acquitted.

    Maybe most chilling of all to me happened in the summer of 2006 when Ralph “Bucky” Phillips escaped from jail. He killed one NY State Trooper and attempted to murder another. The search for him involved numerous law enforcement agencies, both state and federal. On Friday morning, September 8th, 2006 my wife and I climbed out of bed (in the St. Louis, MO area) and I fired up the computer to check yahoo news, where I saw a headline something like “Hunt for Bucky Tightens” with a picture of the bottom of the country road her parents lived on. A quick phone call confirmed the presence of NY State Troopers, shotguns out and loaded, in the driveway of their rural home. They were ordered to stay home from work that day, stay in the house, and keep the doors locked. My father in law, a U.S. army veteran, confessed later that he too had his shotgun loaded and by the door. Bucky was captured that night just across the border in PA, less than two miles from my in-law’s house.

  13. I grew up in Philadelphia which, like every major city, was downright crime infested. That said, we had a couple infamous cases.

    First, serial killer Gary Heidnik and his house of horrors. He had a dungeon with 6 prisoners and he killed 2. He was executed by lethal injection in 1999.

    Second, we still garner national attention for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner by Mumia Abu-Jama. Mumia sabotaged his own defense and trial, fired his lawyers, represented himself in a circus trial but he’s a huge hit with Hollywood celebrities. They all treat him like a folk hero. Total joke.

  14. Thanks for sharing that great story, Jim.

    I grew up in a small, isolated gold-mining town in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. Lots of great stories about the misdeeds of drunken miners! But no big-time criminals took the arduous trek to get there, so kind of an idyllic upbringing for me.

  15. “He Had It Coming” from CHICAGO was playing in the background of my brain as I read this. The celebrity of attractive female killers. The husband convinced his crazy hammer-killing wife to run to get her the heck away from him. Smart move.

    For an area a short drive from the original Mayberry, my hometown of High Point, NC, and the area around it has a shocking amount of brutal and famous killings. Thirty odd years ago, a serial killer lured a waitress from a very good family out for a motorcycle ride and left her body in a car trunk in a downtown parking deck. He was caught almost immediately because, unlike fiction, most serial killers are stupid. Almost nothing is available on this murder because, as I said, she was from a very good family who still lives here. A rich, country-club type, Rob Coulthard used lawn chemicals to murder his wife for her insurance. Her doctor was mine at the time, and he totally missed the obvious clues. That’s one of the reasons he quickly became my former doctor.

    Jerry Bledsoe made a bestseller career from local killers. Black-widow Blanche Taylor Moore not only killed her lovers, husbands, and her family but was the primary reason arsenic is no longer in antkiller. Velma Barfield lived on the other side of the state, though. That’s just two of his books.

    And, of course, The Lawson Family Christmas Murders. One of the very first murder/ suicides to become part of the public imagination. On Christmas Day 1929, Charlie Lawson killed his wife and six of his seven kids then killed him. A famous folk song about it is still being played.

    This just scratches the surface of life here. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go make sure my doors are locked.

  16. Sensational crimes? Where I grew up. Hmmmm…… Do Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer count? I was a school kid when TB was active. If I – or any other girl – wanted/needed to take a bus home at night no bus driver would press you for the fare. I knew several people (not me) that knew Denise Naslund and/or her mother. Her murder was devastating. Her mother never recovered. I live not that far from where the GRK dumped some bodies, and I do think about that when I drive by those locations.

    When I was in middle school I delivered the paper to George Jugum’s mother. He was a star UW football player who stomped a 17 year old to death in a local fast food parking lot.

    A couple of years ago a man was shot in the head in his car in drug deal gone wrong just two blocks from my house. Bonus fact: I heard the gunshot. While gunfire was never heard in my neighborhood when I moved her it is now so common I didn’t even bother calling the police.

    A year or so before that someone went nuts in a nearby apartment building and shot several people.


  17. My family lived in an area in the Baldwin Hills just east of the 1932 Olympic Village site, mostly open fields where sheep grazed. About 1945, there was a murder in a car parked on Presidio Drive, below our house, the only house nearby. My mother was visited by Ray Hopkinson and later called as a witness. The defendant was found very, very guilty, but later released by a Governor with poop for brains. The police advised her to buy a gun. At various times, the neighborhood was home to a Mafia don and other, less nice individuals.

  18. I grew up in Memphis when it wasn’t a bad place to grow up. Didn’t think anything of catching the bus and riding downtown on Saturdays and going to the movies and then riding back after dark and walking a half-mile to my house. When I was in the sixth grade, my best friend’s father killed her and her mother one weekend–the very weekend I was supposed to spend with her. But she didn’t come to school that Friday because he’d already killed them.
    Back then they didn’t have counselors to talk to kids like they do now after something violent happens. I had nightmares for months that my own father would kill me while I slept.

  19. Gee, I guess this is where I say I grew up in Wichita, KS. You know, where BTK went on his killing sprees? Anyway, I, too, am an author but there was no way I was going to put out “the 100th” book on the man. He is still in prison, here in Kansas.

    When he was caught, there was so much media attention across the country that he stated, “I feel like a STAR!” What a sicko.

    I do love True-Crime stories, and have written one myself, but BTK pretty much takes the care for insanity. At least that is my take on this sicko.

  20. In the 1950’s, the son-in-law of my mom’s best friend murdered several women by entering their homes through their kitchen windows. I won’t name the city, but it was here in California. When his wife learned of the crimes (after her husband was arrested), she changed her name and went into hiding. She was terrified he’d be released and come to find her. I live in L.A., now, and have been close to various murder scenes. One crime was never solved, (to my knowledge, anyway): Back in November 1970, a high school friend disappeared off the Hollywood Freeway. Her name was Robin Graham. She ran out of gasoline at 2:00 a.m. Police talked with her and they called her dad. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events, but at one point, the police had driven by again and saw a young man bending over the hood of Robin’s car. Assuming it was a relative, they didn’t stop. Robin disappeared and has never been found.

  21. Dear Jim:

    I grew up in a lovely small town, Hagerstown, Indiana. Hagerstown was the home of Perfect Circle Piston Rings, the worldwide producer of all kinds of piston rings for automobiles and trucks. As a result, our town was a wealthy town with a Carnegie library, a beautiful country club/golf course and a lovely picnic area for everyone. Our downtown was full of various and sundry successful shops. It was a town that if you wanted a job, there would be a job for you at “the shop.” The Teetor family owned Perfect Circle, they built a huge factory that had an underground tunnel so that even during the winter months, the workers could go from one factory to the other without going outside.

    My father was a foreman in steel products and worked the third shift. He often spoke about Ralph Teetor, the blind inventor who could come in during those times and repair any machines that weren’t running as they should. Because he was blind, his hearing was acute and he could tell if the machine needed any repair or upkeep.

    Ralph Teetor was the inventor of the Speedostat which is now the Cruise Control on all cars. My mother worked as his secretary in his “shop” at the edge of Hagerstown. Ralph had several engineers that helped him with his invention. You can read about Mr. Teetor in the book his daughter, Marjorie, wrote entitled One Man’s Vision (a play on words). Mr. Teetor and his wife, Nellie, were revered in our small town and everyone knew Ralph. They dedicated a tract of land to the local Girl Scouts and our cabin was named RaNelTee.

    I remember as a young girl riding my bike into town to be with friends, and on the way I would ride through Tidewater in order to stop at the bridge and watch Teetor Falls, the creek that ran through the western part of our town.

    During the 1950s, I think it may have been 1955 or 1956, the UAW wanted to come in and create a union. There was a strike at the plant and our town was under martial law for that summer. One of the men at the shop was shot from someone firing from the road. It entered his house and as I recall hit him in the stomach. He did survive. Pretty soon after that the UAW gave up. That is probably the most exciting story of Hagerstown, Indiana. Every August there is a huge homecoming celebration and people who have moved away come back for a weekend of festivities including a parade with floats. High School friends meet and gather and have large floats in the parade.

    If you ever go to Hagerstown, Indiana, you must eat at the famous smorgasbord which used to be Welliver’s but is now owned by another couple and named Willy’s and Red’s. There is also Willow Springs which has delicious fried chicken dinners! And you can tour through the town and countryside to see the beautiful mansions the Teetor family built. The factory has been torn down after Dana Corporation came in and bought Perfect Circle. It was a terrible time for a while but I think the small town is still surviving. It’s just different.

    • Thanks for all that, Judith. Amazing about Ralph Teeror.

      The story of the Carnegie libraries is one that ought to be remembered.

      And I love eatery recommendations! So if I’m ever in Hagerstown I’ll be sure to stop by and say hello to Willy and Red.

  22. When I was living in South Florida in the mid-1970s, I read a newspaper article about the brutal murder of a woman in St. Augustine, Florida. The victim was running for the mayoral election (and may even have been the mayor, running for re-election), and she was hacked to death with an ax, as I recall, right in front of her own front door in the early afternoon. At the time the article was written, the attacker was unknown, and I never heard about any arrests being made. I did not live in St. Augustine at the time, but I do now, and I still remember reading about that incident and how horrified it made me feel.

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